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U.S. Stocks Turn Lower Following Fed Meeting Minutes

01/03/2013 | 03:38pm US/Eastern

--Stocks turn lower after Fed meeting minutes released

--Minutes show divide between members on when to halt bond-buying program

--DJIA down 10; S&P one lower

 
   By Alexandra Scaggs 
 

NEW YORK--Stocks turned lower after minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's December policy meeting put a damper on midday Thursday gains.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 10 points, or 0.1%, to 13402. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index lost one point, or 0.1%, to 1461, and the Nasdaq Composite Index pulled back two points, or 0.1%, to 3110.

Stocks turned lower after the Fed minutes showed a divide between members on when would be best appropriate to halt the central bank's bond-buying program. The record left little indication of which course the Fed would choose and said members expressed uncertainty about the benefits of ongoing purchases.

On the economic front, data on private-sector job growth for December, provided by Automatic Data Processing and Moody's Analytics, well exceeded expectations. Many see ADP's report as a preview to the closely-watched government employment report due out on Friday. But initial claims for jobless benefits rose by more than expected.

Still, after the ADP's report, two Wall Street economists raised their predictions for Friday's jobs report. Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius raised his estimate to 200,000 from his previous target of 175,000. Credit Suisse also raised its forecast, to 158,000 from 165,000.

Retailers reported mixed sales growth in December, as investors sought to gauge consumer spending during the holiday season. Same-store sales rose 4.5%, above analyst expectations of 3.3%.

Family Dollar slumped 12% after the discount retailer reported fiscal first-quarter earnings that missed expectations and provided a downbeat second-quarter outlook given a challenging holiday selling season. But TJX Cos., which owns off-price retailers such as T.J. Maxx and HomeGoods, climbed 3.6% after it posted stronger-than-expected December sales and raised its earnings projections for the fourth quarter and full year.

Sales in some areas could have suffered from the down-to-the-wire nature of the budget compromise in Congress, said Jeff Savage, regional chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, which oversees $169 billion in assets.

"Retailers would have appreciated an answer coming about 10 days before it did," he said. "Consumer confidence took a big hit toward the end of the year, and retail, therefore, took a big hit."

Write to Alexandra Scaggs at alexandra.scaggs@dowjones.com

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